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DID YOU READ

Cannes Dispatch 3: A Good Year For The Americans

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By Dennis Lim

One easy conclusion to draw so far: the Americans are having a good year. The films of David Fincher, Quentin Tarantino and the Coens have been among the most warmly received competition entries. Down the Croissette, the Quinzaine is screening two of the best films from Sundance 07 — Robinson Devor’s “Zoo” and Gregg Araki’s “Smiley Face” — and has world-premiered two more fine American indies: Tom Kalin’s unerringly intelligent true-crime provocation “Savage Grace” and Ramin Bahrani’s Queens-set street-kid slice of life “Chop Shop.”

My favorite film by an American director so far — although it was shot and financed in Italy — is Abel Ferrara’s “Go Go Tales,” screening out of competition as a midnight selection. A wild and wildly allegorical comedy, it’s set in the course of one long, eventful night at the declining Paradise Lounge strip club. Beleagured proprietor-emcee Ray Ruby (Willem Dafoe) is behind on the rent (landlady Sylvia Miles is threatening to turn the premises over to Bed Bath & Beyond) and facing a nearly mutinous crew of go-go dancers (among them Asia Argento, who gets to tongue-kiss a dog). But he continues to dream big, holding on with a mix of tenacity, blind optimism and belief in community that are, more than ever, the necessary traits of the struggling artist.

The charmingly sleazy cabaret ambience evokes “Killing of a Chinese Bookie,” but with its overt melancholy and warm communal vibe, this could almost be Ferrara’s “Prairie Home Companion,” ending not with a graceful fade-out but on a note of crazy defiance. Ray’s funny, rousing final speech — peppered with heart-on-sleeve avowals (“I love to gamble!” “I played to win!” “What do you want from me? You wanna kill my dream? Take my heart?”) — is, of course, Ferrara’s own manifesto, a message to audiences and investors who may have lost faith. American distributors take note.

Another film that will hopefully have a U.S. home before the week is out, “Paranoid Park,” Gus Van Sant’s first film after the Death Trilogy that recharged his creative batteries and relaunched his arthouse career, is both modest and masterful, the work of a wholly relaxed filmmaker in peak form. The formal experiments of “Elephant” and “Last Days” — trippy subjective audio, fractured chronology, obsessive Rashomonic replays — are further refined here and by now seem like second nature.

Based on a novel by Blake Nelson about a teenage skate kid who accidentally kills a security guard, the story would seem to locate Van Sant in predictable territory (not to mention in the vicinity of Larry Clark). But every element of this supremely intuitive film — the credible cast (recruited via MySpace), the lovely, moody cinematography (credited to Rain Kathy Li and Christopher Doyle, who has a brief cameo as “Uncle Tommy”), Leslie Shatz’s delicately textured soundscape, the emotive soundtrack (heavy on Nino Rota and Elliott Smith) — is designed to tune you into the wavelength of its young protagonist (Gabe Nevins). Few films have ever conveyed so keenly the panicky dread and numb estrangement of adolescence. As a coming-of-age story, it’s at once incredibly specific and cosmic in scope.

A Palme d’Or favorite judging by their past win (for 1991’s “Barton Fink”) and three director awards, not to mention the critical response, Joel and Ethan Coen’s skillfully directed adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel “No Country for Old Men” is, without a doubt, their best since “The Big Lebowski.” It’s also shaping up as the most overrated film of the festival. The Coens have fully exploited the cinematic potential of McCarthy’s tense, tersely described action sequences, but they’ve also exacerbated the book’s tonal problems and questionable politics (i.e., its apparently face-value conservatism). It’s hard to give credence to the late bid for seriousness (which takes the form of a few windy philosophical bouts), given the expert flippancy and nastiness of what came before.

Michael Moore’s “Sicko,” on the other hand, could have done with a little more seriousness. Not that the filmmaker doesn’t convey the urgency and gravity of his subject. Moore hammers home his basic, inarugable thesis — that the profit-motivated U.S. health care industry is immoral and inhumane — with a lack of finesse that can be both cathartic and frustrating. Considering what’s at stake, you can’t help feeling this should have been a less reductive, more scrupulous film.

Strictly in terms of information, “Sicko” does little besides confirm what most reasonably well-informed Americans already know. With its glib, utopian views of foreign health care systems, it’s also a feel-good palliative for Moore’s overseas fan base. Given that his central argument is pretty much a no-brainer, he tips the balance toward tearjerking manipulations. “Sicko” is sometimes enraging, often upsetting, but as a polemic, it could have used less mawkish sentiment, more lucid outrage.

[Photo: Gus Van Sant’s “Paranoid Park,” MK2 Productions, 2007]

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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